Monday, 29 May 2017

Two Rules Incidents at BMW PGA Championship

There were at least two interesting Rules incident at last week’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Club, Virginia Water, Surrey, both of which involved South African competitors.

Branden Grace Taking (Unfair?) Relief
After eagling his 12th hole, Branden Grace, was tied for the lead at 6 under when he found his ball plugged in the sand on the upslope of a greenside bunker, giving him a very difficult lie to make any reasonable stroke from. He took a stance, as though preparing for his stroke, shuffling and twisting his feet into the sand. But then he stepped away and called for a Rules official. He told him that when he took his stance his feet were touching the rubber lining to the bunker and that he was claiming free relief from this immovable obstruction, which is permitted by Rule 24-2b(ii). There is no doubt that a player may take relief from an immovable obstruction interfering with their stance, but would the lining have been exposed if Grace had taken his stance with less vigour? In the circumstance, the USGA rules official, Mark Hill, had little option but to permit Grace the free relief by dropping his ball in a more favorable area of the bunker, within one club-length of the nearest point of relief, not nearer the hole, but there was much criticism from commentators and players, including Paul McGinley, who as he watched the incident unfold said;

“It was ridiculous. If you twist your feet enough you’re bound to eventually reach the bunker lining. That means anytime a player wants relief from a poor lie he can simply twist his feet until he reaches the bunker lining. That can’t be right.”

Quite! I wonder if the official knew that Branden Grace had used the same Rule to obtain a similarly favourable relief 18 months ago. See this blog of mine for details. 

Incidentally, if an official had observed Grace digging into the sand with his feet and judged that he had done so in excess of what was necessary to obtain a firm stance for the intended stroke, he could have penalised him two strokes for a breach of Rule 13-4, as per Decision 13-4/0.5.

(Edit 30th May 2017: There is a video of this incident at this link. I note from this video that the official permitted Grace to smooth the footsteps in the sand that he had previously made in digging-in for his stroke. In my opinion, this should not have been permitted. In any case, having received relief without penalty, the permitted area of drop was within one club-length of the nearest point of relief from the uncovered lining, which was outside of the disturbed area of sand. My opinion is based on part of Decision 13-4/11, though this refers to footsteps made in searching for a ball).

Ernie Els Penalising Himself for Taking (Unfair?) Relief
Another interesting Rules incident happened at Wentworth on the same day, but this time no official was involved. Having reached the rough beside the green with his second stroke on the par-5 12th hole, Ernie Els was unsure as to whether his ball had plugged. Rule 25-2 only provides relief for an embedded ball in a ‘closely mown area’, but as is now the norm in most Pro competitions, the European Tour extends this relief by a Local Rule to ‘through the green’. Els was aware that he was entitled to lift his ball to determine whether it was embedded, which would entitle him to a relief drop, so he correctly announced his intention to his fellow competitors that he was going to mark and lift his ball to examine the lie. He quickly determined that the ball had not been embedded, so relief was not available. The Rules require that the ball must then be replaced with a fellow-competitor being given the opportunity to observe the replacement.

Despite having to chip from the rough, Els made an excellent contact with his ball and watched incredulously as the ball rolled across the green and into the hole for an eagle 3. The interview that he gave after the round explains what happened next;

"I just felt uncomfortable by the way the ball came out. The ball came out way too good, so I felt I didn't quite probably put it (back) exactly where I should have. Under the Rules you try and put it back the way you think it should be, but I still felt uncomfortable with it, so we took a two-shot penalty. I know deep down the ball wasn't quite where it should be and I wouldn't be able to live with myself."

So, it was the fact he made perfect contact with his ball, resulting in his chip shot being holed, that led him to believe that he could not possibly have replaced the ball in exactly the same lie as to where it had been embedded and although no-one else was doubting the replacement, including a European Tour Official, who he consulted after the round, he ultimately felt that the best resolution was for him to self-impose a penalty of two strokes, under Rule 20-7, for playing from a wrong place. Kudos to a great golfer who is also a great example to those of us that love the game.

Coincidentally, at the same time that many were complimenting Ernie Els for his absolute integrity in strictly following the Rules at Wentworth, others were raising questions as to whether Branden Grace had taken an unfair action to take advantage of them.

Good golfing,


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The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2017 and may not be copied without permission.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Armchair Officials in Golf

One of the most controversial subjects relating to the Rules of Golf is how some penalties are imposed retrospectively on tournament professional golfers, following a communication from someone who has spotted a breach of a Rule while watching television. I have expressed my opinions on this subject in previous blogs and in responding to the related comments underneath them, but I am now pleased to reproduce here, with kind permission from the subscriber, a considered opinion, which makes a lot of sense to me.

The Case for Armchair Officials in Golf
Monopoly is different than chess. They have different rules. No one complains. Golf is different than other sports. It calls for different rules. People complain. Let’s start with a principle on which all sportsmen can agree. Referees are charged with GETTING IT RIGHT. We will accept a close call that goes against our guy, but rail over a bad call every time. “Come on Ref, get it right.” Early on golf’s Rules makers realized our sport was significantly different than all the rest. First, all those other sports have the same field. Football, basketball, baseball, hockey, tennis, bowling, soccer, volley ball – all of their fields are the same and are right there in plain view for everyone to see. Also, they all have one ball. Our fields are all different and we have 150 balls flying around over 170 acres of topography which include hills, valleys, trees, ponds, all sorts of crooks and crannies. How is it possible for referees to “get it right?”

To assist them the Rules makers early on came up with the concept of “ALL AVAILABLE DATA.” Before adjudicating an issue officials are instructed to talk to anyone that can add creditable data, other players, caddies, spectators, anyone, and anything to get it right. They often use TV footage when it’s available. “Hey Johnny, can you see from the video where that ball crossed the hazard line? Yes Rodger, looks like it crossed near that little tree about 200 yards from the tee.” No one complains. I ask, “What’s the difference between the monitor in the 18th tower and the monitor in Cleveland?” Of course logic dictates the answer – there is no difference.

A cousin to the ALL AVAILABLE DATA principle is the theory of lines. When it’s too difficult to make distinctions, too difficult to draw lines, the Rules makers don’t even try. Take the case of Brian Davis tied after regulation with Jim Furyk at the 2010 Verizon Heritage at Hilton Head. During play of the first playoff hole Brian’s club during his backswing from a green side hazard hit a reed (a loose impediment) and he incurred a penalty resulting in his losing the tournament. The grill room crowd went wild. “That’s a dumb Rule. It was only a small reed.” I asked what if instead of a reed there was a log 6 inches in diameter right behind his ball and Brian could fit his wedge in there and on his back swing push that log out of the way clearing the area for a clean chip onto the green? The grill crowd responded with “that would be a penalty.” Logical folks now see the issue. Where is the cut off between a reed and a log? Clearly there isn’t one. Or, if there is, it’s not obvious to the majority of golfers. So, we have the theory of lines. When it’s impossible or impractical to draw lines, Rules makers don’t even try. Don’t hit a loose impediment in a hazard – period! If you cause your ball to move through the green, you incur a penalty. Move is move. One inch, one foot or one yard. You can’t play from a wrong place, no lines. One yard, one foot, one inch. When Officials are directed to obtain ALL AVAILABLE DATA, all means all. No commas, no dashes, no semi-colons. If the arm chair guy in Cleveland has data that can help GET IT RIGHT – then bring it on. Remember, he is not making any ruling, he is just providing data. It’s reported that while the arm chair call-ins are reviewed, most are discarded. Also, over the years call-ins have helped players as well as hurt them. Our game is better served by the ALL AVAILABLE DATA principle.

Jerry Duffy, Maryland, USA

In my opinion, viewers who think that they may have seen a breach of a Rule on a televised broadcast should restrain themselves from getting involved, leaving it to the Rules officials charged with the responsibility. However, once any breach of Rule has come to the attention of those officials in charge, notwithstanding its source, they do then have a duty to impose the appropriate penalty prescribed by the Rules of Golf. Officials have a responsibility to protect the rights of every other player in the competition and on a wider scale to the integrity of the game; they do not have the right to chooses whether to impose a penalty, or not, for a known breach.

Good golfing,


The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2017 and may not be copied without permission.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Stroke and Distance Penalty for Ball Out of Bounds

There has been a lot of discussion in golfing circles about which Rule of Golf players would most like to see changed, in addition to the proposed changes announced by the Ruling Bodies on 1st March. At the top of nearly every informal poll I have seen is a wish to change the stroke and distance penalty for a ball played out of bounds. Players hate to have to return to where they last played from when they unexpectedly find that their ball is the wrong side of an out of bounds boundary line. When this happens there is an inevitable delay in play while the player goes back. Of course, they should have played a provisional ball, but there are occasions when the out of bounds line is not obvious from where the ball was played from and other times when players find that their ball has taken an unusual deflection in the wrong direction. There is only one way to proceed when a ball is out of bounds and a provisional ball has not been played, as in Rule 27-1b;

b. Ball Out of Bounds
If a ball is out of bounds, the player must play a ball, under penalty of one stroke, as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played (see Rule 20-5).

The appropriate penalty for a ball that has been played out of bounds has exercised the Ruling Bodies for well over a century; it seems that there is general support for a change to be made, but it is far from obvious what that change should be. This is a summary of the various efforts made by the R&A and USGA to address the issue over the past 130 years;

1886: The term out of bounds was first defined by Royal Isle of Wight, with a penalty of stroke and distance.
1899: Defined as being outside the recognised boundaries of the course; penalty distance only.
1908: Redefined as all ground on which play is prohibited. Penalty distance only still, but may be changed to stroke and distance by Local Rule for both forms of play.
1920: Stroke and distance, but now the penalty stroke may be remitted by Local Rule.
1947: USGA (1950: R&A): Distance only, and no provision for change by a Local Rule.
1952: Stroke and distance.
1960: USGA experimentally changed to distance only.
1961: USGA back to stroke and distance. In addition, the USGA allowed an alternative procedure of stroke only, dropping a ball within two club lengths of where the ball went out of bounds, on courses where the penalty of stroke and distance would be "unduly severe".
1964: USGA allowed a Local Rule to be adopted which allowed a stroke-only option if it was felt that stroke and distance would be “unduly severe”. The player could drop a ball within two club-lengths of where the original ball crossed the out of bounds line. Reasonable evidence was required both that the ball had gone out of bounds and as to the point of crossing. In the absence of either, stroke and distance was the only option.
1968: Rescinded.
The main difficulty relating to a ball that has come to rest out of bounds is estimating where it last crossed the boundary of the course. Sometimes this may be easy to determine, as in the photo above, but more often it may lead to robust debate between players, officials and spectators. Also, there is little doubt that keeping the ball within the boundaries of the course can be a strategic part of the challenge of playing some holes. This is particularly true on courses that have tight boundaries where some holes have specifically been designed to encourage players to weigh the risk-reward of a shot and play the higher percentage route for safety. In this context, safety may include both avoiding out of bounds penalties and avoiding public liability issues from balls landing outside the course. Adjusting the penalty for balls played out of bounds could lead to players choosing to take high-risk shots towards, or over those areas, with little concern for what is on the other side.

Presently, there is no change in the ‘Draft New Rules of Golf for 2019’ with respect to what to do when a ball is lost or out of bounds; “18-2b: If a ball is lost or out of bounds, the player must take stroke-and-distance relief by adding one penalty stroke and playing the original ball or a substituted ball from where the previous stroke was made.“ However, I would not be surprised if serious representations are made from some quarters to treat out of bounds area the same as ‘red penalty areas’, for which there will be similar relief options to that for lateral water hazards in the current Rules.

Perhaps, the quandary on a suitable penalty for a ball played out of bounds is best summed up by these two statements on the subject by Thomas Pagel, Senior Director, Rules of Golf and Amateur Status for the USGA;

“We’ve looked at every angle, but of all the alternatives we’ve considered, we haven’t found one that is workable for all levels.”

“We are committed to identifying a solution. When we hit 2019, there will be solution, even if it’s by a Local Rule, because we recognize the importance going forward.”

Good golfing,


If your golf club is anywhere in Ireland, Berkshire & neighbouring counties in England, or Aberdeenshire in Scotland, why not suggest a Rules of Golf social evening to your Committee. I am widening the areas where I give presentations and would be pleased to quote them for an evening’s ‘entertainment’!

The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2017 and may not be copied without permission.